When free agency officially began, the Los Angeles Lakers had to immediately change course when Paul George did not meet with them and agreed to re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
While George expressed interest in playing for his hometown team, he ultimately could not pass on the four-year, $137 million max contract with the Thunder. Less than 24 hours after George’s decision, LeBron James’ representatives met with the Philadelphia 76ers, which was a cause for concern.
Up to that point, there weren’t updates about the Lakers, despite being considered the favorites to sign James. After president of basketball operations Magic Johnson secretly met with James once free agency began, the 33-year-old agreed to a four-year, $154 million deal.
Now, the team’s attention presumably shifts to Kawhi Leonard, who still wants the San Antonio Spurs to trade him following James’ decision.
According to Stephen A. Smith of ESPN, executives believe Leonard is willing to sit out the 2018-19 NBA season in effort to put pressure on the Spurs:
“Because of the personality of Kawhi Leonard and what transpired last season, they said to me, ‘Don’t rule out the possibility of Kawhi Leonard sitting out next season before he’s willing to come back to the San Antonio Spurs.’ That’s how badly he wants out. That’s how badly he wants to remain in L.A. … Now, again, these are what executives and league folks are saying. I did not hear this from Kawhi’s camp. I did not hear this from Kawhi Leonard.”
After dealing with a right quadriceps injury, Leonard averaged 16.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.3 assists in just nine games. While there appeared to be opportunities for the two-time All-Star to return during the 2017-18 season, he was eventually shut down.
While the Spurs are reportedly seeking multiple prospects and draft picks, they simply do not have the leverage. Although George re-signing with the Thunder may give opposing teams optimism, Leonard has a different personality and may very well be a one-year rental.
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